Hlinka Gretzky Cup: Canada Shades Sweden in Semifinal Shootout

Cole Perfetti finally got his hat trick — as part of an incredible five-goal game, two in regulation and three more in the shootout — in lifting Canada to a 3-2 win over Sweden in the semifinals of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Breclav, Czech Republic.

It was shades of Jonathan Toews from 2007 as far as shootout heroes go, with Perfetti scoring on three of his four attempts, including the final two, with the decisive goal coming in the eighth round.

Perfetti was the only Canadian to score on Jesper Wallstedt but beat him five times to send Canada to the gold-medal game against Russia, which defeated Finland 4-1 in the other semi.

Perfetti was the obvious choice as Canada’s player of the game, but Tristan Lennox was heroic in his own right — both in overcoming an injury during the shootout and in keeping Canada in the game with a couple clutch saves when trailing 2-1. Lennox stopped six-of-eight shots in the tiebreaker after making 21 saves through overtime.

Wallstedt was the busier goaltender, as expected, in stopping 39 shots through overtime, then five more in the shootout to earn player-of-the-game honours, but his efforts weren’t enough to prevent Sweden from playing for bronze against Nordic rival Finland.

Daniel Ljungman also did his best for Sweden, scoring once in regulation — his team-leading third of the tournament to open the scoring — and twice in the shootout as the lone Swede to solve Lennox in the tiebreaker. Ljungman previously scored in a round-robin shootout against the United States, with Sweden prevailing 5-4 in that contest.

Defenceman Hugo Styf, with his first of the tournament, netted Sweden’s other goal in regulation against Canada, which never led in trailing 1-0 after the first period and 2-1 for much of the second before a scoreless third.

Perfetti responded for Canada with his tournament-leading sixth and seventh goals, both on breakaways. Essentially, all five of Perfetti’s goals came on breakaways as he got the better of Wallstedt in 1-on-1 situations between two top prospects for upcoming NHL drafts.

Perfetti entered this tournament as a top-10 talent for 2020 and is now in the mix for the top five, while Wallstedt has long been projected as the top netminder for 2021 and is living up to that hype at the Hlinka.

Saginaw Spirit Cole Perfetti
Cole Perfetti of the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit has been the star of this tournament. (Saginaw Spirit/OHL)

As lopsided as the shots were, at 41-23, Sweden was impressive in pushing Canada to the limit without their top two 2002-born forwards in Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, who are both top-five candidates for 2020 but skipped this tournament to audition at last week’s WJC Summer Showcase. Sweden fared much better against Canada than in last year’s gold-medal game at the Hlinka in Edmonton, which turned into a 6-2 blowout, though Wallstedt didn’t dress for that game.

Canada has by far the best team on paper at this year’s tournament, having outscored their opposition 21-1 through the round robin in blanking Finland 6-0 on Monday, shutting out Switzerland 8-0 on Tuesday and routing the host Czech Republic 7-1 on Wednesday.

Sweden had a tougher road to the medal round with mixed results in defeating Slovakia 3-2 on Monday, falling to Russia 3-0 on Tuesday, and edging the U.S. in that aforementioned shootout on Wednesday.

Here’s what stood out to this scout in Friday’s semifinal thriller:

RELATED: 5 Storylines For Scouts at Hlinka Gretzky Cup

Perfetti Ties Scoring Record

Perfetti etched his name into the Hlinka record books, with those breakaway goals bringing his point total to 11 through four games. He has a chance to stand alone with another point in the gold-medal game on Saturday. He also has a shot at tying or breaking the goal record of eight — set by Vasili Podkozlin at last year’s tournament. Perfetti already has 10 counting his shootout goals, but those don’t count towards the record.

Perfetti has scored in every game for Canada, also netting two against Finland and Switzerland, and one against the Czech Republic. All seven have been nice, with the two against Sweden both being highlight-reel material again.

As you can see, the beauty of those breakaways is that Perfetti scored in similar fashion but by deking to the opposite side — going to his forehand and lifting the puck over Wallstedt’s pad for the first goal, then going backhand shelf for the second in making that move look much easier than it is.

In the shootout, Perfetti kept Wallstedt guessing by opening the scoring in the second round with a sneaky five-hole tuck after pulling the puck to his right. In the seventh round, Perfetti prolonged the tiebreaker and answered Ljungman’s go-ahead goal by deking to the left before firing five-hole again. Same hole, but moving the other way on Wallstedt. Then, in the eighth round, Perfetti put on the finishing touch by leaning to the left and lifting a forehand shot over Wallstedt’s blocker just inside the post.

Perfetti had all the moves on this day and has been a scoring machine at the Hlinka, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise since he led all OHL rookies in goals with 37 last season.

As was the case against both Finland and Switzerland, Perfetti had his chances for the hat trick in regulation against Sweden but got stoned by Wallstedt on a sweet set-up from Hendrix Lapierre in the third period after another good look was deflected away by a defender late in the second period following his second goal.

Perfetti and Lapierre have been a dynamic duo for Canada, with Lapierre (3-7-10) just one point off the record that is now shared by five players in Perfetti, Podkolzin, Alexis Lafreniere (2018), Nathan MacKinnon (2012) and American forward Thomas Novak (2014). Lapierre got his tournament-leading seventh assist against Sweden by springing Perfetti for his first breakaway goal during a 4-on-4 situation early in the second period. Lapierre is also looking like a potential top-10 pick for 2020.

Ljungman’s Rise Continues

This tournament always has unexpected standouts and breakout players who shoot up the preseason draft rankings thanks to their Hlinka performances.

Last year, it was Philip Broberg who took the tournament by storm for Sweden. This year, it is Ljungman, who has been outshining his highly touted teammate and projected top-20 pick Zion Nybeck in this showcase.

Counting shootout goals, Ljungman has lit the lamp six times here and will be a riser as a result, not into the first-round range but certainly into the top 75 with the potential to keep climbing.

Sweden’s best forward and leading scorer through the round robin had been William Eklund, but he’s a late-2002 and thus not draft eligible until 2021. Of the 2020-eligible forwards, Ljungman has had a leg up on Nybeck at the Hlinka — even before scoring three times against Canada.

Ljungman’s power-play goal in the first period was nothing special but a decent wrister past Lennox’s glove inside the far post in following up after his first shot was blocked.

Ljungman also made one of the best defensive plays of the opening frame, backchecking to break up a prime scoring chance for Perfetti, with Ljungman lunging to get his stick on Perfetti’s shot and steering it wide. Ljungman has been a 200-foot player here while also displaying offensive upside.

Ljungman’s shootout goals were both snipes, first to the blocker side and then to the glove side in ripping those wristers past Lennox. He can definitely shoot the pill as the kids say.

Flashes From Nybeck

Nybeck had his best game of the tournament against Canada, stepping up as Sweden’s most dangerous forward. He rung a shot off the post prior to Ljungman’s goal on the same power play, with Nybeck showing off his wicked release in pinging the left post from the right faceoff circle. Nybeck is a left-hand shot who plays his off wing.

In the second period, Nybeck generated another quality chance with the game tied 1-1 by getting around Kaiden Guhle with a nifty move in cutting across the high slot before shooting back against the grain — from left to right that time — but Lennox was able to make a pad save and Canada cleared the rebound.

Nybeck had a chance to win it in the shootout but fired wide in the fifth round while Lennox was clearly labouring from an apparent leg injury sustained in stopping Eklund as Sweden’s fourth shooter.

Goaltending Highlights

In a battle between two of the top goaltending prospects for 2021, Lennox was up to the challenge against the more touted Wallstedt.

The youngest player on Canada’s roster and only one not eligible for 2020, Lennox was at his best in the second period after allowing Styf’s go-ahead goal at 4:09 — a slapshot from the point through a screen that eluded Lennox to the glove side for a 2-1 lead.

Lennox stood tall from there, with Sweden pushing the pace and Canada on their heels for the first time in the tournament. During that 10-minute stretch, Lennox stopped Oskar Olausson on the doorstep, then denied Eklund on a breakaway at the 12-minute mark by closing off the five-hole to foil his deke attempt.

At the other end, Wallstedt was solid from start to finish. He was a calming influence for Sweden early on, looking confident in snaring a Guhle one-timer for his best save of the opening frame in stopping all 10 shots. Canada outshot Sweden 10-3 in the first period despite trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes.

Wallstedt was sharp in the second period too and couldn’t be faulted for Perfetti’s breakaway goals. In between them, he made quality stops on Connor McClennon and Perfetti, with those chances coming on consecutive shifts.

In the third period, Wallstedt got across and stayed big in going down to block Perfetti’s hat-trick bid off that perfect feed from Lapierre around the eight-minute mark.

In the shootout, both goaltenders delivered big saves. Wallstedt’s best stretch spanned the fourth to the sixth rounds in stopping Lapierre, McClennon and even Perfetti in succession, while Lennox shook off allowing a first-round goal by Ljungman to stop Eklund in the fourth round and then shook off that injury to turn aside Ljungman on two of his three attempts in the sudden-death portion — though Ljungman lost control of the puck above the hashmarks and flung it wide on his final try in the eighth round prior to Perfetti’s winner.

Unsung Standouts

Both teams had some unsung standouts, with Jean-Luc Foudy enjoying his best game for Canada as a speedy forward like his brother Liam — a 2018 first-round pick for Columbus. Jean-Luc had lots of jump against Sweden after scoring Canada’s last goal in Wednesday’s round-robin finale against the Czech Republic, which was his first of the tournament.

Justin Sourdif was buzzing in the offensive zone too, another forward creating chances for Canada that didn’t show up on the scoresheet.

Donovan Sebrango and Daemon Hunt also had their best games as unheralded defenders for Canada. Sebrango has overtaken Ryan O’Rourke in the depth chart, with Canada shortening the bench to six on defence during the semifinal. Hunt was on the ice late in regulation and wound up with one of the better scoring chances in the 4-on-4 overtime but fired wide on a partially blocked shot.

For Sweden, Isak Garfve wasn’t really on my radar heading into the game but was noticeable in the early stages as an effective penalty-killer and a bigger forward with good defensive awareness, though his turnover in the offensive zone led to one of Perfetti’s breakaway goals.

Quick Hitters

Quinton Byfield was a non-factor for Canada, disappointingly quiet in the semifinal after three strong showings in the round robin that netted him four points (two goals, two assists). Byfield was supposed to be Canada’s best player and entered as the only projected top-five pick for 2020 participating in the Hlinka, but this was his worst game of the tournament and left a lot to be desired — including his shootout attempt, a backhand deke that went wide in the third round. Still, there were flashes of a star in the making.

OHL, Sudbury Wolves, Quinton Byfield
Quinton Byfield of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves struggled in the semifinal. (CHL Images)

Canada tried to spark Byfield by shaking up his line, replacing Jake Neighbours with Will Cuylle, but that didn’t necessarily work either. Neighbours dropped down with Foudy and Ridly Greig, while Seth Jarvis stayed on Byfield’s other wing with Cuylle.

McClennon briefly left with an injury that forced some more line juggling for head coach Mike Dyck, but McClennon returned and managed to finish the game despite wincing at times.

Guhle had his good moments and bad against Sweden. For the most part, he continued to be a strong, steadying force on Canada’s defence and again showed off his heavy shot, but he got dangled by Nybeck and also lost a puck battle in the corner that led to Olausson’s chance. Those blemishes aside, Guhle is proving to be a solid and smart defender.

Sweden’s top defenceman on the day — and throughout the tournament — was Emil Andrae, a smooth puck-mover who controlled their power play. He fed Nybeck for his chance off the post in the first period and sprung Eklund for his breakaway in the second period. Andrae also delivered a few stretch passes of note, including one in the dying seconds of overtime.

Helge Grans seemed more assertive against Canada than in Sweden’s round-robin games and he looked better overall. Grans was paired with Andrae on Sweden’s top power-play unit and they are both potential first- or second-round picks for 2020.

Leo Loof was another defensive stalwart for Sweden, standing his ground throughout and blocking one of McClennon’s shots off the rush, while also holding the offensive blue line on a couple occasions. He could crack the top 100 in 2020 too.

Remaining Schedule

The medal games go Saturday (both 11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT on TSN), with Canada facing Russia for gold while Sweden meets Finland for bronze to end this weeklong event.

Unfortunately, those games are starting at the same time — as was the case for the semifinals, which made it difficult to simultaneously scout Russia’s victory over Finland with my focus on Canada-Sweden. That scheduling isn’t ideal for the scouting community, but thankfully there will be plenty of highlights shared online and hopefully some full-game footage to review in the aftermath.

Canada is the two-time defending champion and has won gold in 10 of the last 11 years and 22 of 28 times over the history of the Hlinka tournament.